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Drowsy Driving Poses a Safety Threat Comparable to Drunk Driving


August 25, 2021

Drowsy driving does not get the same media coverage as drunk driving, but both practices lead to a high number of collisions, injuries, and fatalities.  Motorists impaired by alcohol and lack of sleep exhibit many of the same mental and physical characteristics.  “Drowsy driving” might not be a criminal offense like DUI, but exhausted drivers can still face civil liability (and criminal liability in some circumstances and locations) for causing accidents, injuries, and death.  Regardless of the legal status of these forms of driving, both practices devastate the lives of many victims and their families.  

Drowsy driving does not get the same media coverage as drunk driving, but both practices lead to a high number of collisions, injuries, and fatalities.  Motorists impaired by alcohol and lack of sleep exhibit many of the same mental and physical characteristics.  “Drowsy driving” might not be a criminal offense like DUI, but exhausted drivers can still face civil liability (and criminal liability in some circumstances and locations) for causing accidents, injuries, and death.  Regardless of the legal status of these forms of driving, both practices devastate the lives of many victims and their families.  

Alcohol impaired drivers caused the death of 10,142 people in the most recent year for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released annual statistics.  This death toll amounts to 28 percent of all traffic-related fatalities according to the most recent NHTSA data.  While this represents a 5.3 percent decrease from NHTSA fatality statistics from the prior year, drunk drivers continue to claim the lives of innocent victims and deprive families of loved ones.

Although drowsy driving statistics do not paint quite as grim a picture, traffic experts think drowsy driving accidents tend to be underreported.  The most recent annual NHTSA drowsy driving statistics report indicated that sleepy motorists caused almost 91,000 police-reported crashes that resulted in nearly 50,000 injury victims and approximately 800 deaths.  While the number of fatalities associated with drowsy driving might seem significantly smaller than the drunk driving total, traffic safety experts point out that police officers do not have a way to test whether a motorist was too tired to drive.  Because sleepy drivers who cause accidents resulting in harm to others might be hesitant to admit this fact, the number of people hurt and killed by drivers too tired or fatigued to drive might be much higher.

Putting aside statistical disparities, both drunk drivers and sleepy drivers exhibit similar types of impairment behind the wheel.  Researchers have found that intoxicated and overly tired motorists caused a comparable number of collisions.  The study found that motorists with 20 hours of sleep deprivation exhibited impaired driving skills comparable to a driver with a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the legal limit for DUI under federal law.  After a full 24 hours of sleep deprivation, drowsy drivers displayed driving skills akin to a motorist with a .10 BAC.  

Although this data might suggest only motorists who are very sleep deprived exhibit diminished driving skills, a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that getting six or seven hours of sleep doubled the risk of being in a crash while getting only five hours of sleep doubled the risk again.  If you or a loved one has been injured by a drunk driver or a drowsy driver, an experienced auto accident lawyer can review your legal rights and options, as well as the steps necessary to protect those rights.

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Sources:

https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/nhtsa-releases-2019-crash-fatality-data

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/drowsy-driving/drowsy-driving-vs-drunk-driving

Category: Auto Accidents

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.